RDGA Finalé – Up With The Big Ones!

I’ve written about Col de la Bonette on several previous trips, I fact it was the first big Col that I ever took Harls up and in many ways the one that got me hooked on “Col Hunting”.

In a way it was ironic, because it’s been downhill ever since I made that first ascent of “The Big One!” Strictly speaking Bonette isn’t the highest paved pass, that honour lies with L’Iseran, Bonette lies in 4th place, but what makes it crazy-special is the Cime de la Bonette; Cime translates as “Summit.”

The Cime de la Bonette is probably the most wonderful folly that the nation of France has ever constructed. It’s a road that just loops around the mountain from the Pass and back to the Pass reaching an elevation of 2802m/9193ft and that makes it technically the highest paved through road in the whole of Europe.

On the South side the road climbs steadily from Isola, the big mountain taunting you from miles away. The grandeur of the scenery is almost overpowering as the ribbon of asphalt snakes skywards and leaves trees and waterfalls far behind.

Wide vistas open as the hairpins steadily kick in, but in a civilised way; although this is a high climb it isn’t savage.

Remains of high altitude barracks from over a hundred years ago straddle the road. Soon after comes the first Pass, Col du Raspaillon at 2513m and then things start to get really serious.

The mountain begins resemble a lunar landscape, bare black and grey rocks dominate, very little grows up here. There is always snow lying, what ever state of the summer, this is probably the hardest country that you can take a road vehicle and definitely not a place to come in bad weather, if you value your life. This mountain has claimed many unwary visitors.

It’s because of it’s unique, wild, dangerous beauty that I love the place.

The last kilometre from the Col de la Bonette at 2715m to the summit at 2802m is like taking a ski jump to the clouds as the gradient hits 15%!

I kicked down Harls side stand at the summit stone and just drank in the majesty of the place and the moment, we were back.

Looking South I could just about make out the Mediterranean Sea, over 60 miles away, we were down there earlier. All around I was surrounded by high peaks, many snow-capped and all stunningly beautiful; it made me feel both very small and also incredibly lucky to be there to enjoy it all.

It was one of those moments that make me feel so alive and glad to be so.

When you hit a high, both figuratively and also in this case literally, it’s easy to think that it’s only downhill from here. Well, ok, geographically it is, but riding amongst these mountains you’d be crazy to only look on the downside. Also I had a “rest day” tomorrow and as the weather was looking good I wanted to do a bit of exploring whilst I was up here.

First off I took a stroll to the real summit of La Bonette which stands a further 58 metres above the road. Walking in motorcycle gear is never much fun, but believe me doing it at altitude is really not to be recommended. At 2860m/9380ft the effects of altitude are very noticeable if you try to do any strenuous exercise without allowing your body time to adjust; riding a motorcycle from sea level to this height in just a few hours is not adequate adjustment, I can assure you!

I like to think that I’m pretty fit for my age, true I don’t spend hours in a gym, but I do live an active life, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke; but that eighty metre climb to the summit was something else! Never before have I found a short stroll to be such hard work and whilst I wasn’t struggling unduly it was clear that nature was giving me a gentle reminder as to who exactly was in charge up here!

It was worth it though, the view just got even better and I had the place to myself.

With a tinge of sadness I turned to start the descent down to Jausiers. RDGA had been a blast and it literally was going to be downhill all the way from here, but in the back of my mind I knew that I’ll be coming back one day.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do. Looking back on that adventure last summer much has happened since and people dear to me have been lost to this world. I sometimes wonder how much longer I can keep doing these trips, because believe me they don’t get any easier with age! I’ve got a wonderful family and small network of close friends who support my crazy yearning to travel and explore the high places, so whilst I can I’ll keep going; you are, after all, a long time in your box!

What next?

Well, if all goes to plan, I’ve got some unfinished work to do in the Pyrenees in June this year. Then whilst perusing some maps the other day, I spotted some lovely looking passes in Switzerland and Northern Italy…!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The whole of RDGA is dedicated to the memory of G, my little brother who left us too soon.

“Escaping the ghosts of yesterday,
you were behind me following closely, don’t turn around now.”

Riding on Ahead

I don’t often sit staring at a blank screen wondering what to write.

I don’t often have tears in my eyes when I sit at a computer screen.

I don’t normally find it difficult to articulate what I want to say.

This isn’t a “Normal” moment…

Over the years of blogging, I have occasionally mentioned my mate G, he of motorcycles and leukaemia.

On the 26th of December, G’s battle with cancer came to an end. He was 52 and leaves behind a loving wife and two young teenage children.

He also leaves behind a lifetime of memories, achievements and laughter.

G was a complex character, his highs were incredible, he could make a large room helpless with laughter; on the other side he had lows, deep black lows. Mostly though, he was a “Glass Half-Full” chap and it was only when his health issues got too much did he sometimes slightly look on the downside.

Our relationship was mixed. Mostly, we were great mates who had wonderful times together and yes we had some really great times! We also had moments, like in any relationship, when we really couldn’t stand the sight of each other; yet we came through it, eventually.

When, three and a half years ago he told me that he had cancer it shook me to the core. I tried to always be there for him.

Then he had a big motorcycle accident and I sat by his bed in the trauma unit as the medics tried to figure out if they could save his hands, let alone make then work again. In the weeks and months that he slowly recovered, I used to drive over to his house and again sit with him; then we would laugh and tell each other tales of what we would do once he was well.

He bought another motorcycle and the surgeons got him strong enough to ride. I went with him to collect the bike, a Yamaha Super Ténéré that had been modified to accommodate his injured hands; his joy at being on two wheels again was humbling.

Picking up the new bike, June 2017.

We rode again together, as often as his health allowed and the light came on in his eyes again.

The day after Christmas that light went out for the last time.

G, I loved you through all of our ups and downs, even through the times that you annoyed the hell out of me and drove me up the wall in frustration! You did what little brothers are supposed to do and did it very well; I’m missing you already.

Hwyl fawr, brawd bach!

Dookes

Equalising the Equinox

There are some days when you just have to get out there and celebrate the sheer joy of life and if you can share that with one of your dearest mates then so much the better.

If that mate is battling cancer…

Well, it’s sort of inspiring and at the same time frankly humbling.

The Autumn Equinox, 22nd September this year, dawned bright and sunny.

I had arranged to meet G in the historic city of Exeter, about 50 miles from Dookes H.Q., just enough miles to warm up both man and machine. At our rendezvous G was on good form and after fueling both riders and machines we set out Eastwards along the beautiful South Devon coast. p1070794

We trundled along in glorious early autumn sunshine; OK I’ll be honest, I trundled along whilst G flicked his Yamaha Super Tenere effortlessly through the corners. These days, knowing what he has been going through, it always makes me smile when G does that with a motorbike; you see I know that underneath his crash helmet will be a big grin and that makes me happy too!

The beautiful County of Devon soon gave way to its equally lovely neighbour, Dorset and the famous world Heritage Site of the “Jurassic Coast.” The area cuts across nearly 190 million years of geological history, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Fossilised remains found in its rocks testify to the land having changed over the millennia from tropical seas to desert and marshland. The region is a magnet to fossil hunters from around the world whilst the mellow yellow rock is very easy on the eye and the gentle hills a delight to a motorcyclist. There are many interesting features along the coastal landscape with the natural arch of Durdle Door being probably the most famous.

Durdle Door -  Photo by Saffron Blaze

Durdle Door – Photo by Saffron Blaze

Between Abbotsbury and Portland the impressive shingle bank of Chesil Beach extends for 18 miles (29Km). The beach is 200 metres wide and 15 metres high and shelters a broad lagoon known as The Fleet. It is fascinating that the size of the shingle pebbles on the beach varies from West to East; they range from pea size at West Bay to around the size of an orange near Portland.

Chesil Bank

Chesil Beach

We paused high above Chesil, partly for a breather, but also to take in the stunning view and enjoy the gentle sea breeze. When a Westerly gale is blowing here the place changes out of all recognition and takes on a ferocious face as the many shipwrecks that litter the seabed here bear witness.

From Chesil we turned inland and skirted the county town of Dorchester before heading north onto the chalk downlands. At Cerne Abbas it was time for another stop, we needed to discuss the important matter of lunch, but also to grab a cheeky view of the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, a massive fella, (in more ways than one!), carved in the chalk hillside.p1070814

This old chap is a bit of a mystery. Some people believe he is a Celtic fertility symbol and dates from around 10 AD, others say that he is Roman and represents Hercules, whilst a third school of thought is that he dates from the 17th century and is a caricature of Oliver Cromwell. My shot of him shows that he needs a bit of re-chalking so thanks to Pete Harlow for the use of his aerial picture.

Carne Abbas Giant - Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

Carne Abbas Giant – Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

We decided on lunch in Sherborne, a short ride from the Giant and after a gentle stroll around the old castle settled down to a relaxing meal. p1070818

Sherborne Old Castle was built in the 12th century as the fortified palace of the Bishop of Salisbury; it seems a tad strange for a Bishop to live in a castle! p1070824Later the castle was home to Sir Walter Raleigh and following its siege during the English Civil War was left in ruins by General Fairfax of the Parliamentary Army in 1645.p1070848

Today Sir Walter is said to return to his castle each St Michael’s Eve, 29th September, to roam the grounds and check up on his beloved former home. I don’t blame him, it’s a lovely place.

Refueled by our lunch we turned East and soon were crossing the Somerset Levels. This region of around 160,000 acres is an ancient coastal plain and wetland area of tremendously important habitat and biodiversity of international importance, plus rich agricultural land. It has been inhabited since at least 4000BC.
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The levels mostly lie only about 20 feet above mean sea level, but in some places only manage 10-12 feet. With peak spring tides of around 25 feet you can see the area is frequently in trouble from flooding. Drainage and land reclamation has been going on here since the 12th century, but every now and then nature shows who is still really in charge!

I like to think of the levels as our local equivalent of “Big Sky” country, it certainly is a pretty special place.

Burrow Mump is a hill and historic site that lies towards the Western levels. Our road passed the base of the hill and I couldn’t resist squeezing off a quick moody shot looking towards the ruined church on top of the hill.p1070857

Our route to deliver G back home swept over the lovely Blackdown Hills at Whiteball where on sweeping roads we crossed back into Devon. We parted just by G’s house, set in rolling rural loveliness between the Rivers Exe and Creedy.

My friend looked a tad tired as I rode off, tired but happy. I still had another 50 miles to ride, 50 more glorious twisty miles to enjoy my lovely big blue Harley and reflect on special times shared with special friends.

The equinox had been equalised, everything was balanced up nicely.

“It’s easy watchin’ seasons go
As sunshine turns to new-born snow.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

p1070861

Goodbye Dog Days of Summer

OK I admit it, I’ve not been out on two wheels anywhere near enough in recent weeks!

I’m not over worried about the lack of bike action though. I had to smile to myself yesterday when the latest copy of HOG, Harley Owners Group, magazine dropped through the Dookes letterbox and the editorial commented that this year’s  “Riding Season” was coming to a close.

I’m sure that I have previously mentioned, to me there is no defined “Riding Season.” I ride all year round, whenever I can get out. It’s just about having the right gear and more importantly the right mental attitude and the commitment to clean the bike off afterwards…!

As I said in my last post, life has been busy and just as if I needed reminding to slow up a bit my body has done it for me. A torn Achilles tendon and a mild kidney infection have slowed me up nicely and given some badly needed time for recharging the old Dookes batteries. I do feel a bit of a fraud though, my mate leukaemia battling G is back in hospital and considerably more poorly than I am; here’s thinking of you fella.

Sadly, summer in the Northern Hemisphere is beginning to wind down; shadows are getting longer and the nights are noticeably drawing in. We’ve still been enjoying plenty of good weather though, all is not yet mists and leaf-fall, but the dog days are certainly gone for another year.

In our garden at Dookes HQ we have a delightful raised bed planted full of various types of mint. It’s useful as a herb for cooking, but at this time of year I love it because the flowers acts as a magnet to butterflies and bees.  This summer the butterfly population of Cornwall has been noticeably depleted, possibly this is a result of our mild wet winter last year, so its been great to see at least some of our residents topping up their nectar levels on our mint blossom. On a glorious morning the other day I grabbed a camera and stalked the butterflies for a few minutes, I must say that I am quite pleased with the results!

P1070700

This rather lovely Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais ureicae) caught my eye with its dazzling colours. This is one species that has suffered a worrying decline in recent years, particularly in the South of our country. One theory is that is being attacked by a parasitic fly, whose range is spreading due to global warning. It’s still one of our most widespread butterflies and occurs throughout the British Isles. I just glad it chose our garden!

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Looking at the photos, I think that they might be two  different butterflies as the wing pattern doesn’t seem the same in both photos. I am, however, very pleased with the results and I hope you like them.

“What it’s like to walk amongst butterflies.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

 

Sea Fever and Steam Trains

I don’t think I get the dreaded writer’s block, but sometimes I feel that I have so much to say I don’t really know where to begin, call it muddled thoughts if you like!

The Dookes life is remaining busy, perhaps sometimes I should just say “no” when I get asked to do things, but hey busy is good cos you’re a log time in your wooden box! As a result though “thinking time” is a rare commodity just at the moment. I was like that today and really needed some space to think; what better than a spell sitting on a Cornish clifftop overlooking the Ocean?

There’s something about the sea that clears the old Dookes head. It’s a combination of the smells, the sound of the waves, the motion of the water and … well, just about everything! It’s a real tonic for the senses.

It wasn’t the sunniest of mornings, but the air was clear and sharp with the tang of sea salt. A hundred feet below me the lazy waves of the approaching high tide sighed as they lapped at was left of the small sheltered beach.
The famous poem “Sea Fever” by John Masefield came to mind. It’s one of those lovely pieces of literature that over the years have inspired me and if I’m honest been a comfort at times too.

I believe that the power of good literature in any language is a wonderful thing. For me it doesn’t have to be a long monologue from Shakespeare, it can be something quite brief, but it has to hit that nerve that causes an emotional response.

You see, I told you that the sea clears my mind and a free mind is able to wander…

Last week I had the pleasure of a very enjoyable motorbike ride with my leukaemia battling mate G. Great fun and brilliant to be out with my friend again. G is hanging in there, his aggressive treatment continues, but when he’s good he does OK and riding motorbikes is one of the best treatments he can have. For my part, seeing him comfortably flicking his Yamaha through the bends as I followed on ‘Harls’ lifted my spirits too. There have been dark days in hospital for G over the last months and to get out and ride together again was fantastic!

We took a long looping ride from the historic city of Exeter, Northwards tracing the valley of the River Exe towards its source high on Exmoor. Swinging West and passing through Barnstaple, Torrington and Holsworthy we certainly covered the miles, well over 250 in fact!

Northern Exmoor

Northern Exmoor

On the high Northern edge of Exmoor we stopped at the delightfully named Woody Bay station where the resurrecting narrow gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway can be found. As its name suggests, the railway once stretched from the port of Barnstaple across a meandering route to the small town of Lynton, a distance of 19 miles. The single track line opened in 1898, but by 1923 ownership passed to the Southern Railway who operated mainline trains and were not really in the business of rural narrow gauge railways. In 1935 the L&B was closed after a scandalously short operating life of just 37 years.

Woody Bay Station

Woody Bay Station

Interestingly, this beloved narrow gauge railway has gained more fame and interest in the time since it’s closure than it ever achieved when open. Today a group of dedicated enthusiasts have begun to rebuild the line and Woody Bay station is the main centre of activity. Brightly painted green steam locomotives are once again chugging along part of the old route, with plans afoot for further extension back towards Barnstaple. I can’t wait!

Living Steam on the L&B.

Living Steam on the L&B.

When the line closed a wreath was found on the buffer stops at Barnstaple with the message, “Perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth.” imageIt looks to me like it is now very much awake again!

Funny thing the sea, just like a motorcycle it takes you to such wonderful places……image

….and then the sun came out!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Sea Fever
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield. 1878-1967.

Ice in my Morphine.

Just recently it’s all been bit strange in the world of Dookes. In many ways everything in my life has ben well sorted, ordered and under control, which for an untidy sod like me is a bit of a minor miracle!

Then along come the curved balls, you know those things over which we have absolutely no control and things go, well, crazy!

I don’t know if it’s a function of getting older, or if because I have more time these days to think about the little things, but sometimes I do feel like I’m trying to swim against a tide of treacle!

Now don’t worry, I’m not slipping into any sort of depression, nor am I unburdening by way of the Internet, but at times when the world really all seems stupid I’m so glad of my two-wheeled friends.

Regular blogonaughts know of my mate G’s ongoing battle with cancer. I’ve come to hate that bloody condition, not just for the dirty way that it attacks and eats people, but also and probably more so, the effect it’s pernicious tendrils have on the people surrounding it’s victim. 

Just lately G hasn’t been at all good. Because his immune system is being attacked by the cancer he is extremely susceptible and vulnerable to all types of infections; the sort that healthy people can shrug off with a couple of over the counter tablets could easily kill him. Unfortunately my pal has picked up a couple of these infections and has been spending quite a bit of time in hospital plugged into IV antibiotics, morphine and a cocktail of other drugs.

To make his discomfort complete his larynx has been damaged by the chemotherapy and he can’t talk.

Earlier this week he was feeling a bit better and was desperate to get out for a bit of two-wheeled therapy. We tentatively arranged a meet up for yesterday and we were both looking forward to sharing some quality time together on our motorbikes.

Then came the bombshell; G had developed a temperature, quite a high temperature at that. His wonky immune system seems to only kick in a temperature when he’s really ill and then it goes bonkers. In addition he’d developed raging ear ache and totally lost his appetite, yep my pal was on his way back into hospital again; back to isolation and no visitors except his immediate family, back to that IV drip as well.

It’s strange, I felt numb about the whole situation and needed to find some space to get my head around things. I’d arranged to ride out with G, so the best thing to do seemed to ride out for him now!

As I pushed Baby out of the workshop I resolved to ride steady, ride to savour the day and ride to park things out on the highway.

It didn’t take long before the deep roar of Baby’s engine and the rumble of the road beneath us had me smiling again, bikes do that to me!

I decided to loop around the West of our neighbouring county of Devon, where the gentle and beautiful scenery always seems to welcome me. I stuck to secondary roads, I didn’t want the hassle of too much traffic getting in the way. Passing through small towns like Okehampton, Halwill Junction and Holsworthy life was definitely beginning to look a whole lot better.

I stopped for a coffee and exchanged text messages with G. I didn’t dare tell him I was out riding and when he reads this I’ll be in deep s**t!

Setting off for home my mind travelled back to just over a year ago, before G was diagnosed with leukaemia. We rode the same route together one evening and in my mind I could see him in front of me on his beloved little Triumph Bonneville, flicking the bike through the bends with consummate ease and trying to out-run my bike’s superior power on the straights. What fun we had that evening.

Passing back into my county of Cornwall I paused at the wonderfully named New Bridge, which I suppose it was once but as it dates from 1504 I think that must have been a long time ago! The River Tamar marks much of the boundary between the two counties and at this spot it is beginning to meander in its wide lush valley, just the spot for a bit of quiet contemplation and time to be grateful for many special things.

I mounted up and twenty minutes later was home at Dookes H.Q..

Swimming against a tide of treacle is hard work, but just occasionally you get to surf a little roller and things can start to look up a bit!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Oh yes, the “Ice in my Morphine” comment came from G when I told him to take more ice in his whisky to bring his temperature down! G thought that it would do more good in his painkiller!!! 

Staying Away 

On Wednesday of this week my leukaemia battling mate G had another dose of Chemo-Therapy.

The process it’s self is pretty simple, he sits down and over the course of the next six to eight hours the medical staff intravenously fill his body with a cocktail of poisonous chemicals. G tells me that as it’s going on he can gradually feel things happening, like his sense of taste changes and everything begins to smack of metal.

Later he is tired, very, very, tired.

It’s the sort of tiredness that can’t be cured by sleeping, he just wakes up as tired as before he went to sleep.

Then over the next few days and weeks he begins to feel a bit better. The senses return to near normal and the fatigue eases.

His biggest problem is that during this period he is extremely susceptible to infection. The Chemo process wipes out most of the white blood cells that are vital for the immune system to protect the body from viral invasion. He becomes neutropenic. People with neutropenia are so susceptible to bacterial infections that often without prompt medical attention any infection can quickly become life-threatening.

That’s how G ended up in Hospital with pneumonia just before Christmas.

After the Chemo session on Wednesday G didn’t feel to bad at all and on Thursday called me and suggested that I pop over to his place on Friday. He wasn’t up to riding a motorbike but he did offer to cook brunch.

At this point I need to draw attention to my mate’s culinary skills. A former Chef at The Grosvenor in London, he certainly can produce great things in the kitchen and if he offers to cook I don’t refuse!

So the plan was for me to ride the 50 miles to his place and just spend the day chilling and enjoying a nice meal.

Then I woke up on Friday morning. Sore throat, blocked sinuses and ears. I have a head cold, bummer!

I quick chat with G and we quickly decided that I should stay away and we’d reschedule for another day, no point at putting him at risk. Of course, this did mean that I would have to forgo G’s brunch.

Later, as I was having a cup of tea and a cold chicken sandwich, I received an email from G, with a picture of the totally over the top, self-indulgent, brunch he had prepared for himself! Which I share with you here.

The Devon Fry!

The Devon Fry!


Now that’s not a nice thing to do to your caring Mate, is it?

I guess a little of what you fancy does you good and it looks like G’s taste buds must be returning to some kind of normality!!

“Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing.”

Catch you all soon.

Dookes